Griswold high school roof replacement project plays to empty house - twice
By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Fri., Jan. 3, 2014
The proposed roof replacement project for Griswold High School played to an empty house twice last week, as only one person showed up for the two public hearings on the $3 million project. School board vice-chairman and building committee member Stuart Norman, Jr., had his PowerPoint presentation all set up in the school’s cafeteria Dec. 30, with the screen strategically located next to a video screen wrapped in plastic to protect it from the leaking ceiling. But apart from school officials and board members, nobody showed up. He said that the previous week’s hearing, slated for Dec. 23, attracted only one resident – the husband of a school board member.
The lack of turnout was a real disappointment, said Norman. “Some people here [at previous public hearings] said they had no idea a referendum was taking place,” he said. “The attendance at those was awful. I don’t know what do. I don’t have people calling me and saying, ‘You have a referendum? What’s it all about?’”
It’s possible that the awkward timing for the two hearings was a factor; they were planned for the days before Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, respectively. But the process was expedited for a Jan. 14 referendum so that the town could begin seeking a contractor for the project early in the construction season, said Norman. Dragging out the decision could end up making it harder to find willing construction firms for the bidding process, thus driving up the town’s projected cost for the project, he said.
Considering the buzz about the project and questions being posed on social media like Facebook, the lack of attendance was especially disappointing, said Norman. “Democracy is wonderful – if people take the time to inform themselves about what they’re voting on,” he said.
Townspeople voted Dec. 3 to approve the roof replacement by a 296-122 margin. But town officials were obliged to repeat the entire referendum process – two public hearings, a town meeting and ultimately a referendum – when it was determined last month that the meetings had not received adequate public notice according to state statute. In addition, the opinion of the project’s bonding attorney had not been obtained prior to the referendum. Town officials chalked up the oversight to the rarity of the bonding process and town officials’ lack of previous experience with bonding.
More than 72 percent of the projected $3 million cost of the project would be covered by state funding. The town expects to pay only $887,309 of the total cost. Norman said that for a taxpayer whose house is assessed at $125,000, the impact on the annual tax bill would be about $22 per year over the life of the bond.
The town meeting was scheduled for Jan. 6, and polls for the Tuesday, Jan. 14, referendum will be open from 6 a.m. through 8 p.m. Town officials remind residents that even if they already voted in the first referendum, when the project was approved, the vote was rendered moot and they should cast their ballot again.